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January 31, 2005


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Josh Rothman

Did you become a faster reader at some point? Because I'm in graduate school and am still struggling to read faster.


hmmm, for academic-type reading, I allow between one and three minutes per page depending on the size of page and the complexity of the text. For fun reading, I could do 20 pages in ten minutes - but I wouldn't expect to be able to discuss the details. And I consider myself a pretty fast and thorough reader.

If you want to do in-class reading exercises, it might be useful to check around and develop a minutes per-page rubric.


I remember one of the first tests I gave, I had constructed it so well - it was a thing of beauty.
I had calculated that that students would probably take about three times longer than me to solve it, but threw in a safety net and gave them a factor of five.

It was a disaster. I think the high score was 65 and the average about 41. Oh well.....

PZ Myers

I have to say that none of this is any slam on the students' abilities, but many years of academic training actually does have an effect on our brains. I was a fast reader to begin with, and now I can buzz through technical papers at several pages a minute -- it's a big help, though, that when they start talking about some familiar protocol I only have to pick out the important parameters to grasp the whole thing.

It makes it very difficult to pace a course, though.

I've also done the horrible thing of blowing away my students with an exam I assumed was fairly straightforward. What I do now is put the exam together, and then sit down and compose the answer key...and if it takes more than 15 minutes for me to put together a good key with brief explanations of the answers, I know I've overdone it.


I think I remember you teaching The Turn of the Screw this semester. I am as well, and I'm willing to bet that if you read that at one-two pages a minute, you're missing an awful, awful lot--even if you're some kind of mutant eidetiker.


Richard Niebuhr was my teacher, and he would tell us that it took many years to learn to read slowly. I am forever trying to learn to read as he read.


Niebuhr would read to us the Brothers Karamazov, and stop and chuckle, and suddenly there was more before me than I had imagined there could be :) We would do a poem by Emily Dickinson and an hour would race by for a few lines.


A few weeks ago you offhandedly said something about 100 pages an hour (!!) and ever since I keep thinking of you as I'm sitting down to prep the reading for my classes. I think "gosh, little professor would be done by now. what's wrong with me?" So here's my big question: do you write notes as you read?


If I'm taking marginal notes, then the laws of physics slow me down :) Otherwise, yeah, I "cruise" at about 100 pp/hr, with adjustments up or down depending on what I'm reading. With Henry James, I slow down somewhat; with cheap mass-market mysteries or SF, I go much faster. But for most serious lit, 100 pp/hr is the speed at which my brain seems most comfortable processing information, so "slowing down" often has a negative effect.

Natalie Bennett

I wonder if this has anything to do with reading a lot at a young age. Teachers when I was eight or nine or ten refused to believe how fast I read. One actually did a test where they ran a text across the screen. I've forgotten the numbers, but they had to admit that I was reading everything as fast as I said I was.

But at this time I used to read _all_ the time (including quite frequently in class). I can remember I used to go to the library almost once a day because I was reading eight books a day (probably talking Enid Blyton or something like that) and that was all you could get out.

Now I probably also read something like 100pphr, and a bit faster on airport novels.
Although no doubt if you gave me a topic with which I was utterly unfamiliar I'd be slower, and that may have something to do with problems with students! :-)


At the expense of sounding like a star struck teenager, you are so cool :) Your reading speed is pretty impressive.

I can go pretty fast but never timed myself. I sometimes tend to make myself plod slowly through by choice (or read aloud sometimes--I have this thing about hearing the sound of the words of certain pieces) and am also a compulsive annotator--my books are all marked up.

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